I have been using science notebooks in my kindergarten classroom for about 5 years now, and like everything else with my teaching, they get a little better every year. I had embraced the 5-E model for teaching science and was feeling pretty good about it until somebody, somewhere decided we needed a change. This year, my district is encouraging us to use the model outlined in Michael P. Klentschy's book: Using Science Notebooks in Elementary Classrooms.
Mr. Klentschy advocates a much more student-centered approach to science investigations...
as opposed to the teacher-directed investigations I've always done. In a nutshell, he suggests posing a problem; activating the students' prior knowledge and developing a list of questions; choosing or developing a class focus question; working together to come up with a plan for the investigation; recording the data with drawings, charts, graphs and of course, writing; making a claim supported by the evidence (i.e. I claim that yellow and green make blue because when I mixed the yellow and green paint, it made blue paint); drawing conclusions; and then reflecting and posing new questions.
Ideologically, this philosophy fits with everything I believe about teaching.
I can envision my perfect little class of bright 5 year-olds posing relevant questions about the topic we're studying. I can see them developing a thoughtful plan for an investigation with all the right controls and variables. I can see myself heading to my fully-stocked, wonderfully organized science closet and pulling all the materials we need. I can see the kids conducting the investigation, recording data in a beautiful, organized masterpiece-like notebook, and then drawing brilliant conclusions.
If only the world were that perfect!
A more likely scenario would result in a complete derailment of this process when my kindergartners pose questions like Why is the sun yellow? or Why did my ladybug die? You know--questions that are completely irrelevant to the objectives you're trying to teach and nearly impossible to investigate in a kindergarten classroom! How about the fact that I don't even have a fully stocked and wonderfully organized science closet! Or that most kindergartners "record data" with scribbles and random letters--not charts and graphs! And most importantly, we have specific standards to teach and objectives to meet.
So--I have to step back, take a big deep breath, and remember it's all about scaffolding!
- I will scaffold the kids throughout the year.Klentschy says that, although the ultimate goal is to move away from teacher-generated notebook entries (fill-in-the-blanks) to student-created responses, it would be appropriate to start the year off with them and pull away as the kids gain more knowledge and skills. (You know--that whole gradual release of responsibility thing).
- I will also remember that this scaffolding is actually a years-long process. My kindergartners are in YEAR 1 of a 6-year elementary school experience. I am creating a foundation that will continue to be built upon as they move from grade to grade.
- I will scaffold myself! I am also in a learning process. As I gain confidence in myself and the kids, I will pull away more and more. (This is the same process I had to go through with math problem-solving).
I made this lesson plan format to help me in my planning. Feel free to use it if you think this method is something you would like to try. I'll be posting my first "mini-unit" developed this way later today (although, like everything else in my world, it is far from perfect!)
Edited to Add: Those of you that have read Michael Klentschy's book may have noticed I left out the Draw Conclusion step that falls between making claims and asking new questions. My district does not require kindergartners to be able to independently draw conclusions. But we still do it together as a class, when appropriate.
Have a great day!